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Texas Takes Notice as Supreme Court Hears Arizona Case

April 25, 2012

SAN JUAN, Texas - The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in a controversial immigration-enforcement case which could have a big impact on Texas families.

Arizona's so-called "papers, please" law is being challenged by the Justice Department. If SB 1070 is upheld by the high court, it could prompt Texas lawmakers to renew their push for a similar measure. Immigrant advocates also fear it will embolden local police and sheriff's departments to act as immigration agents.

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, a community-organizing group in the Rio Grande Valley, says police and Department of Public Safety officers already have been turning what used to be routine traffic stops into life-shattering events.

"Now, they're calling immigration. And we have so many very, very sad stories of families being separated from their loved ones, being deported - families that have been here for years, have been working here."

At issue in the legal battle is how much leeway states should have in enforcing federal laws. Supporters of the Arizona law, including Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, say the measure would not have been necessary if the Obama administration had done a better job of securing the border.

Valdez-Cox counters that the administration has ramped up arrests and deportations to record levels in the past three years.

Although its supporters say the Arizona law was written to forbid racial profiling, it requires law enforcement to investigate citizenship status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that someone's in the country illegally. Valdez-Cox says border control has dominated the entire immigration debate, when she believes it's only one facet of a problem which includes the underlying economic conditions that attract undocumented immigrants in the first place.

"It is comprehensive immigration reform, and it is the DREAM Act, but it's also about the economy. It's looking at the whole picture of the problems of immigration. And recently, it's only been looked at as enforcement."

Trust in local law enforcement has eroded in some south Texas communities, she says, as police increasingly have become involved in checking documentation. As a result, she says, residents are less likely to report crimes when they're fearful that any contact with police could lead to the deportation of a family member.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX